A World Transformed: The Transcontinental Railroad and Utah: Utah after the Golden Spike Ceremony
Utah after the Golden Spike Ceremony
The transcontinental railroad brought both anxiety and anticipation to the Mormons of Utah. LDS Church leaders knew that the transcontinental railroad would bring less expensive manufactured goods and quite a few non-Mormons to Utah. One Mormon leader wrote, “it would be the bummers, gamblers, saloon and hurdy-gurdy keepers, border ruffians, and desperadoes generally . . . whom I should fear most.” Moreover, cheaper goods could undercut homegrown industries such as textiles, tools, and household goods. In anticipation of these changes, Brigham Young created the Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI). As well Mormon organizations such as the Relief Society launched a vigorous campaign to discourage the use of store-bought clothing, echoing Brigham Young’s view that contemporary fashion “was mostly useless, unbecoming and ridiculous.” These changes were not welcomed by all, however. New non-Mormon merchants who came to Utah after the railroad joined with dissatisfied Mormons, such as the Godbeites, to form a new political party in 1870 that challenged the status quo both culturally and economically.
After the Golden Spike Ceremony, one Deseret News commentator wrote, “if it brings mean, contemptible men here it also carries them off with no less speed.” In the final analysis, “the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages . . . The disadvantages we can control, and, if prudent, eventually remove.” The massive influx of non-Mormons that many thought would destroy Utah’s “peculiar institutions” never materialized. Still, life was forever changed. Coal became a widespread method of heating, families separated by the long miles of the interior West were reunited, new converts could easily and safely travel to Utah, and agricultural goods such as wheat and livestock now could be shipped profitably and join a national market.